Saturday, April 26, 2014

Be Natural - Keep It Real

Lumix DMC-LX5 Camera, DxO Labs Optics Pro and Film Pack - Kodak Elite 200
This ordinary picture was taken with a very good compact digital camera, and then processed with very good corrective RAW processing software (the best in the business in fact), and then the exported JPG was treated with film emulation software from the same firm, also the best in the business. The Post-Processing loop involved is very fun, and as you can see, in spite of the picture being not very interesting, keep in mind this is for demonstration purposes only. I'm trying to find an ideal marriage between digital-film / film-digital by experimentation, even though my rational mind tells me this actually leads me in another direction - a "natural" one.

If you think about the characteristics of digital photographs - razor sharpness, excellent colour control, and very low noise, and compare them with the characteristics of film - WAIT; (screeching halt)! Which film??? Here's where rationality goes off the rails I'm afraid. Now I'm going to put in a picture I took with film (a newer brand of Kodak 400 - I can't even remember the exact name right now):

Canon EOS-Elan 7 Camera, EF 40mm f2.8 Lens, Kodak Film, Epson V500 Scan
I realize this is not a fair comparison by any means - the second picture was taken when I was on vacation and out looking for great shots, and so is a far more exciting photo than the first one when I found myself recently sitting in the car - bored, and thought I might as well take a picture with "the camera I always have with me". So, put those differences out of mind, and simply compare the two in terms of the usual stuff that everybody's always talking about these days - sharpness, noise / grain, colour accuracy, saturation. Also keep in mind how these both involve "digital-film", or "figital" as it's come to be known. The first is taken with a digital camera, optimized from a Raw Data File, then made to look like a particular film using software. The second is taken with a film camera, from which the negative is digitized to a TIFF file (almost the same as Raw) using a scanner, and then re-sampled as a JPG, which makes it into a manageable file size which is good enough for screen display, but less suitable for printing.

I think they both are excellent in all four parameters - sharpness, without being too sharp (typical of good film), low noise, great colour, and perfect saturation. The first picture succeeds in "looking like film" because of two things - 1) a very slight graininess which I purposely added, and 2) a slight softening of both colour and detail, especially in the background, which probably was done by the software's film emulation, or perhaps the camera itself. As for this softening of colour and detail toward the background, this is something that my artistic eye picks up on as a characteristic of colour film photography. To my eyes, digital cameras, especially the best ones, can have a sharpness that just doesn't quit - it goes all the way to the background if you want it to. This can be good or bad, and it is also easily controllable with the lens, of course. But the softening of colour toward the background - that is something which is not as easily accomplished with a digital camera, except that it is somewhat obtainable using film emulation software as I have done here in the first picture. When I was a painter, I was taught how to soften colour gradually toward the background, and found this worked wonderfully as a technique to make a painting look natural. Digital photography, with the emphasis on sharpness and high dynamic range which people seem to be all GaGa over, does not always make this happen to the degree that it should happen, but I would say that good film emulation does indeed help it along.

But one thing that film emulation will not do is "add the magic". You have to look at a lot of film photography to get an appreciation for this. I like film emulation a lot, because I really prefer taking my pictures with a digital camera, for all the obvious reasons, and film emulation can make the right adjustments to a digital image to make it more "painterly", with a single mouse click. But the emulation fails to "add the magic" that you get from just shooting with film, with everything else being equal.

I haven't used film since last summer, but I expect that I will get back into it this summer. I hope that I've given you a bit of insight about how to retain "naturalism" in your photography - this is the kind of photography I really prefer. Not "nature photography", but "natural photography" - just as when I did paintings, I preferred naturalism over impressionism, and I take great interest in talking about photography in these terms.

No comments:

Post a Comment

Reader's comments are welcome, and are subject to moderation by the author.